Feds outline plan to nurse Great Lakes to health

Traverse City, Mich. (AP) – The Obama administration has
developed a five-year blueprint for rescuing the Great Lakes, a
sprawling ecosystem plagued by toxic contamination, shrinking
wildlife habitat and invasive species.

The plan envisions spending more than $2.2 billion for
long-awaited repairs after a century of damage to the lakes, which
hold 20 percent of the world’s fresh water. The Associated Press
obtained a copy of the document, which Lisa Jackson, head of the
Environmental Protection Agency, was releasing at a news conference
Sunday in Washington.

“We’re committed to creating a new standard of care that will
leave the Great Lakes better for the next generation,” Jackson said
in a statement.

Among the goals is a “zero tolerance policy” toward future
invasions by foreign species, including the Asian carp, a huge,
ravenous fish that has overrun portions of the Mississippi River
system and is threatening to enter Lake Michigan.

Others include cleanup of the region’s most heavily polluted
sites, restoring wetlands and other crucial habitat, and improving
water quality in shallow areas, where runoff from cities and farms
has led to unsightly algae blooms and beach closings.

Also promised is a strategy for monitoring the ecosystem’s
health and holding federal agencies accountable for carrying out
the plan.

During his 2008 campaign, Barack Obama pledged $5 billion over a
decade toward fulfilling a Great Lakes cleanup wish list developed
by a coalition of agencies, scientists and activists.

Congress last year approved his request for a first installment
of $475 million. The newly released plan assumes yearly
appropriations of the same amount through 2014, except for the $300
million President Obama requested this month in his 2011
budget.

The 41-page plan sets out ecological targets and specific
actions to be taken by 16 federal agencies working with state,
local and tribal governments and private groups.

Among the goals it seeks by 2014: finishing work at five toxic
hot spots that have languished on cleanup lists for two decades; a
40-percent reduction in the rate at which invasive species are
discovered in the lakes; measurable decreases in phosphorus runoff;
and protection of nearly 100,000 wetland acres.

It also will help save species such as the lake sturgeon, a
prehistoric fish that can reach 8 feet long and 200 pounds but is
endangered because of overharvesting and habitat degradation. The
plan promises to provide 25,000 young sturgeon for stocking
programs.

Combined with enforcement of environmental rules and new ones
where needed, officials said the plan would help make Great Lakes
fish safe to eat, their waters suitable for drinking and swimming,
and their native plants and animals thriving.

The lakes provide drinking water to more than 30 million people
and are the backbone of a regional economy dependent on tourism,
outdoor recreation, shipping and manufacturing.

“We now have a golden opportunity, even a once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity, to make huge progress,” Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle,
co-chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, said in a
telephone interview Saturday.

Jeff Skelding, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes
Coalition, which represents environmental groups across the region,
praised the plan’s commitment to long-range funding for the
restoration but said Congress should boost Obama’s 2011 spending
request to $475 million.

The coalition also says too much restoration money is being
diverted to fighting Asian carp, which could endanger the region’s
$7 billion sport fishing industry by gobbling plankton and
unraveling the food chain.

An “all-out effort” is needed to keep the carp out of the lakes,
but funding should come from elsewhere in the federal budget, the
coalition said.

Cameron Davis, EPA’s senior adviser on the Great Lakes, said
about $58 million in restoration funds would go to the carp battle
this year. But invasive species programs are getting less
restoration money than other needs such as toxic cleanups and
habitat improvements, he said.

Categories: Hunting News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *